Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven (YepRoc/Southbound) CD REVIEW

Way back in the early ‘80s, when the pop world was saturated with the newly wrought phenomenon of synth-pop, there was a necessary reaction to the inorganic sounds of machine-men. In the States, post-punk groups like X started getting countrified. Then came the likes of The Blasters, who took it a step further, and helped to create what later became known as a genre unto itself: alt-country.
Both of these bands at some point featured a guitarist by the name of Dave Alvin, who, 30 years down the line, has made one of the richest, most listenable roots albums of 2011, in Eleven Eleven.
It’s an album with its share of rocking out, and interestingly, it’s rockabilly rather than cow-punk that wins the day. But the majority of Eleven Eleven centres on Alvin’s deep, leathery vocals intoning a series of narratives that resonate like few others.
I hate the word “authentic”, but there’s a sense of authenticity about this album. Perhaps “natural” would better express the sound of this music, and the easy, unselfconscious way Alvin has with both his words and the musical performance.
As with Ry Cooder recordings, you sense aspects of American culture listening to this album that rarely raise their heads in the mainstream. For instance, there’s a eulogy to a Navaho running champ, and a fly-on-the-wall song about the night r’n’b singer Johnny Ace blew his face off in the ‘50s.
Alvin gets to rock out with his brother Phil for the first time in decades, and there’s also a poignant duo performance with Chris Gaffney (Hacienda Brothers) who died shortly afterwards.
Contemporary roots music can be as cliché-ridden as any formulaic genre, and often is. The beauty of Eleven Eleven isn’t that Alvin is bucking genre and busting out; it’s that broadly within convention, he’s still doing something that sounds fresh and real. GARY STEEL
Music = 4/5
Sound = 3.5/5

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